Ancient cave city Dunhuang greets modern Olympics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 2008, 12:00am

As the Olympic torch was carried 7.6km through the city of Dunhuang , Gansu province , yesterday morning, ancient civilisation met the modern Olympics on common ground.

'The modern Olympic Games provide a platform of mutual communication and dialogue to different people throughout the world,' said Fan Jinshi, director of the Dunhuang Research Academy, who was the day's first torch-bearer, carrying the flame from the famous Mogao Grottoes at 8.10am. 'Ancient Dunhuang art is also the precious outcome of cross-cultural exchanges between different civilisations,' he said.

With a population of 180,000, Dunhuang is famed for its caves, which contain a treasure house of Oriental and Buddhist art.

Its 492 caves contain 2,100 coloured statues and 45,000 square metres of murals which, with a large quantity of Buddhist sutras and relics, have provided valuable material for the study of ancient China's art and cultural diversity. The grottoes, created between AD366 and the 14th century, are on Unesco's world cultural heritage list.

The stylised image of Huanhuan - one of five Fuwa, mascots of the Beijing Olympics - which represents the Olympic flame, was inspired by images of Buddhas in Dunhuang murals, said academy vice director Wang Xudong, who also ran with the torch.

Earthquake relief reappeared as a focus on the Dunhuang leg. The magnitude-8 tremor on May 12 shook Gansu province's 70 counties and cities, and left 365 dead.

Although the quake's epicentre was located in Sichuan province , neighbouring Gansu suffered economic losses of about 44.2 billion yuan (HK$50.26 billion).

Donation boxes were set up along the relay route after being absent in the past several legs. A minute's silence was observed before the relay.

Torch-bearers were encouraged by local organisers to donate cash and supplies to the ongoing fund-raising efforts for quake survivors.

According to the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games, the money donated by the public will be used to establish an 'Olympic Torch school' in southern Gansu.

Spectators favoured slogans such as: 'Promote the Olympic spirit, support anti-quake efforts' and 'Pass on the Olympic flame, reconstruct the beautiful homeland'.

Wang Guiying, 55, a teacher at a primary school in southern Gansu, was picked to carry the Olympic torch because of her efforts to save children during the quake.

Ms Wang saved 19 students before her classroom collapsed. She was hit by a falling door frame. 'I can hardly believe I got the chance to carry the torch today,' she said.

The relay continues in the city of Jiayuguan today.